Stunt shows featuring diving horses began in the 1880s and were a wildly popular attraction for decades, despite the obvious cruelty to the animals and the danger it posed, ironically, it would seem, more for the riders than the horses’ theme.
According to Texas Escapes, horse diving was “invented” by a man named William “Doc” Carver. Carver had worked with Buffalo Bill Cody, but by the 1880s he was traveling the country with his own Wild West show. He was a champion sharpshooter, and his rifle skills were the main attraction to the show, but after a while, he added a new gimmick: diving horses.
Allegedly, in 1881 Carver was crossing a bridge over Platte River (Nebraska) which partially collapsed. His horse fell/dove into the waters below, inspiring Carver to develop the diving horse act.
Carver trained various animals and went on tour. His son, Al Floyd Carver, constructed the ramp and tower and Lorena Carver was the first rider. Sonora Webster joined the show in 1924. She later married Al Floyd Carver.